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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Ingemi

Immigrants continue to make South Jersey great

courtesy photo

My wife, Jen, and I recently enjoyed a July 4th visit to Gettysburg, Pa., site of one of the most decisive battles of the Civil War. As we walked through an antique store, I was struck by a Civil War-era hat that was part of the uniform of the soldiers of the New York’s 39th Regiment, the “Garibaldi Guards”. The unit was composed primarily of recent immigrants from Italy, Germany and Eastern Europe, and was named after Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Italian revolutionary who was critical in unifying Italy into a single nation. He also is the namesake of Hammonton’s Local Sons of Italy Lodge. As I did more research on this unit, I learned more about how these Union soldiers enlisted to show their support for their new country, earn money for their families, and rise in American society. They performed heroically at the Battles of Cross Keys during the Valley Campaign, Harper’s Ferry and Gettysburg, despite being subjected to prejudice, lack of provisions and a politicized officer corps in addition to the harsh conditions of battle.

This history made me reflect on the contributions of immigrants. As we wrap up the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel here in Hammonton, a true celebration of the immigrant experience, I wanted to discuss the positive impacts that immigrants make to South Jersey, especially in terms of economic growth, and to end some of the myths that leaders including elected officials spread about immigration. These shameful individuals love to say that they are for legal immigration but refuse to work to fix our system to allow for migrants to come here legally.

As of 2018, immigrants comprised 25 percent of New Jersey’s population. Of those immigrants, 136,186 are business owners that generated $3.8 billion in business income according to the American Immigration Council. In the Philadelphia/Delaware/South Jersey Metro area, 14 percent of businesses are immigrant owned. New Jersey immigrant-led households contribute $65.8 billion in spending power. We do not need statistics for proof, we only need to look around here in South Jersey. Our immigrant-owned restaurants continue to expand. Immigrants are increasingly operating their own carpentry, painting, plumbing and landscaping companies. Immigrants are providing vital professional services in medicine, law and accounting as sole proprietors. They also are quickly becoming loyal customers to long-established businesses. Rather than taking jobs from native-born Americans, immigrants are creating jobs.

In New Jersey, immigrant-led households paid $19.7 billion in federal taxes and $9.5 billion in state and local taxes in 2018. Of those, undocumented immigrants contributed $1.1 billion in federal taxes and $604.3 million in state and local taxes according to the American Immigration Council. Despite what certain people may say, immigrants including the undocumented, are paying more into the system than they are receiving.

In 2018, immigrants comprised 29 percent of New Jersey’s workforce. These include 40 percent of all healthcare workers and half of all computer and math sciences workers. In terms of agriculture on which South Jersey is highly dependent, the US Department of Agriculture estimates that immigrants comprise up to 75 percent of the US farm workforce. Every year during growing season, residents of farming communities see an influx of these workers and understand how important they are to keep agriculture thriving.

Immigration is important for South Jersey and for the United States. We need comprehensive immigration reform to ensure more immigration not less. Rather than listen to fear mongers who want to scare us in time for the next election, we should heed the words of Ronald Reagan, who made historic visits to Hammonton, Glassboro, and Voorhees. In his last address as President, he told an audience: “It is bold men and women, yearning for freedom and opportunity, who leave their homelands and come to a new country to start their lives over.

They believe in the American dream. And over and over, they make it come true for themselves, for their children, and for others…They renew our pride and gratitude in the United States of America, the greatest, freest nation in the world -- the last, best hope of man on Earth.”

Joseph F. Ingemi, Jr. resides with his family in Hammonton, where he works as a technology consultant and serves as an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University. He is a US Army veteran and holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Duke University. Joe is active in regional non-profits. The opinions expressed are strictly his own.


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